Spatial connectivity of the national ecological network, 2015

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The increase in the total area of wildlife habitat since 1990 has also improved the spatial connectivity of ecosystems in the Netherlands. However, a considerable part of the national ecological network (NEN) consists of areas that are still too small or fragmented to support stable populations.

Spatial connectivity of natural areas insufficient for many species

Enabling long-term survival of plant and animal species requires two spatial conditions to be met: conservation of habitats and opportunities to move between habitats. Spatial conditions are insufficient if a habitat area is too small or too fragmented. Many species are on the Red List due to insufficient connections between the habitats they depend on.

Natural areas differ in robustness

The level of spatial connectivity differs between the various natural areas in the Netherlands. Some of these areas are too small or too internally fragmented to provide a sustainable habitat for the species living in them. Some other areas are potentially large enough or are sufficiently interconnected, but their potential is not realised in the current situation of high environmental pressure. Examples of robust areas include the Veluwe and Utrechtse Heuvelrug and various coastal dune areas. Many of these areas have been designated as protected sites under the European Birds and/or Habitats Directives. The spatial configuration and connectivity of approximately half the total area of terrestrial habitat is moderate to poor for the species concerned. (NB: This is not the same as the quality categories for these habitats in the methodology used by the provinces).

Some of the areas are too small or fragmented to provide sufficient space for surviving species. Since 1990, many nature reserves have been enlarged or linked to each other by the acquisition, conversion to new nature and management of adjacent agricultural land. Transformation, ie the conversion of existing nature into another type of nature in order to extend certain habitats for species, also contributes to the improvement of spatial cohesion (PBL & WUR, 2017). The area with good spatial conditions has therefore increased, see the comparative graph between 1990 and 2015.

National and provincial governments try to improve spatial connectivity

The revised national ecological network (NEN, Natuurnetwerk Nederland) aims at creating a coherent network of natural areas. This is the most important Dutch contribution to the international efforts to stop the decline in biodiversity. The 2013 Nature Pact agreement (Natuurpact) includes agreements between the national and provincial governments on nature policy and the growth of the national ecological network. The area covered by newly created habitats is to continue to expand by 40,000 hectares in the period to 2027, while about 80,000 hectares will be converted to nature. This partly involves the conversion of land that has been acquired before. The agreements between the national and provincial governments also mention increasing the spatial connectivity between natural areas. The provincial governments will elaborate plans for this in the next few years. In addition, the national government will complete its multi-year programme for the defragmentation of natural habitats (Meerjarenprogramma Ontsnippering) in order to remove barriers caused by national infrastructure, which are hampering connectivity within the national ecological network. New infrastructure is to be planned in such a way as to fit within the statutory requirements.

Policy objectives

A precondition for the sustainable conservation of biodiversity is spatial connectivity to allow plant and animal species to move between habitat patches. Biodiversity conservation is an important goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as well as the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The Netherlands has international commitments to the objectives of the CBD and the Birds and Habitats Directives (Natura 2000).

The Dutch government's national spatial policy is contained in the 2012 National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte, SVIR). Spatial connectivity supports the following goals and national interests set out in the SVIR:

  • National interest 11: Room for a national network of wildlife habitats to aid the survival and development of flora and fauna.


Technical explanation

Reference of this webpage

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2024). Spatial connectivity of the national ecological network, 2015 (indicator 1523, version 06,

) Statistics Netherlands (CBS), The Hague; PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague; RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven; and Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen.